The 32-year-old doctoral candidate moved to Pullman four years ago from a Peace Corps assignment in Lesotho, South Africa.

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Shane McFarland has found himself somewhere he never expected — a Peace Corps alum working toward his doctorate and a Brazilian jiujitsu instructor with his own martial arts studio.

The 32-year-old Montana native moved to Pullman four years ago with his wife, Carol, both straight from Lesotho, South Africa, on a Peace Corps assignment.

From there, life took a few unexpected turns.

His wife was beginning a graduate program at Washington State University, and McFarland, with his bachelor of science in health and human development and desire to attend physical therapy school, found himself employed as a wellbeing coordinator for WSU University Recreation.

“I had been setting myself up to be a clinician and had this beautiful vision in mind,” he says.

The best-laid plans …

McFarland says he planned to become an exercise physiologist, with time to be a martial arts instructor and massage therapist, allowing him to do a little of everything he loved.

After being wait-listed on his first application to physical therapy school, he began his master’s degree at the University of Idaho. Also during that same period, his job at WSU was switched to the WSU Health and Wellness department, and he began working with prevention scientists, sparking an interest in the field.

McFarland says he began approaching WSU professors with a research proposal — to study how injuries in jiujitsu differ from other athletics and mixed martial arts, and how to prevent such injuries in the relatively new sport.

Eventually, he was asked if he wanted to pursue the topic within the prevention science doctoral program.

“A Ph.D. was everything I was kind of afraid of,” he says, of the academic demands that would come along with the program. Now one year into it, he says it is challenging and he “gets a reality check every day,” but he is happy with the direction he is going.

And an added perk — the work ties in the things he loves: Brazilian jiujitsu and finding ways to give back.

‘I just fell in love with it’

His passion for martial arts began after a startling realization in 2005. McFarland says he woke up on a Sunday morning, poured a bowl of Cheerios and sat down at his computer to play an online Warcraft game. The next thing he realized it was 12 hours later, he says.

The next day he got rid of the game and went to the gym where he saw a flyer for a martial arts school. Researching the class options, he says Brazilian jiujitsu stood out as he watched videos of men taking others twice their size down without a single hit.

“The founder was 130 pounds with asthma. I thought if he could do this, so could I,” McFarland said. “I just fell in love with it. I felt myself getting stronger and more confident.”

Since then, McFarland has become a certified Brazilian jiujitsu instructor. He has taught classes at WSU, served as an adviser to the on-campus club and last summer took over ownership of a martial arts studio, Mantis Martial Arts.

A desire to give back

The school in Pullman has four instructors practicing massage therapy, physical therapy, Brazilian jiujitsu, aikido and kickboxing.

McFarland says he didn’t take over the business to “get rich.” His main goal was to support the community. They hosted the winter farmer’s market and have taken in two practicum students and a summer intern. Eventually, he says, he hopes it will bring in enough money to cover overhead costs so he can give money out to other causes.

That desire to give back came much earlier in life, especially during McFarland’s time in the Peace Corps. Now he hopes his expanded skill set is something he can bring back to South Africa.

Through his prevention science program and training as an instructor in a variety of areas from the Green Dot program, “Girls on Guard” and marital arts, McFarland says he has become very interested in violence prevention.
“I’ve learned there is such a difference between defensive training and prevention training,” he says. “Most people are not bad, they’ve just grown or been around certain situations.”

The juggling act

That idea is something he hopes to bring to South Africa in a program similar to Doctors Without Borders. “There’s not a lot of people looking into violence prevention in these very high poverty areas,” he says.

In his doctoral program, McFarland says, he and his colleagues already have access to the research and top leaders in the field. All that is left is to create a team and launch a research project on the ground.

Between his own classes and research, his assistantship and a variety of instructor roles, McFarland says he still aims to put his family first, especially his 13-month-old daughter, Harper.

With his “impossible schedule” the best thing Harper has taught him is to be mindful, whether she is staring at the shapes on a rug, the fan blades circling or the colors of her toys.

“She really kind of grounds me in that,” he says.